Ontario Health orders 300K face shields from Kitchener company InkSmith

The following is an excerpt from a CBC Article written by Paula Duhatschek on April 6, 2020. 

InkSmith Canadian Shield Personal Protective Wear

Company has increased staffing by about eightfold to accommodate the demand for laser-cut face shields

The Kitchener tech company that pivoted from classroom technology to laser-cutting face masks has an order of 300,000 from Ontario Health, and has expanded its staff from under 10 people to more than 80.

InkSmith has employees working nearly round the clock to fulfill "hundreds of thousands" orders for its laser-cut face shields.   

It's been a hectic month for the company, which until a few weeks ago focused on producing educational materials for teachers.

Last month, InkSmith began making 3D-printed face shields at the suggestion of a local family doctor but soon realized that even 3D printing technology wasn't churning out the shields fast enough to fulfill demand for personal protective equipment.

"That's when we pivoted to a fully laser-cut version of the shield," said the company's marketing manager Jessica Braun.

The new version, she said, has been dubbed the "Canadian Shield." It's made of 100 per cent plastic and can be made in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the hours that 3D printing would take, she said. 

The shield that uses 3D-printed pieces is called the "Community Shield," and is still available in limited quantities for donation to hospitals and healthcare providers.

The company recently posted a popular Tweet showing employees cheering as they sent off an order of 10,000 shields to Ontario Health. That shipment was just one part of a larger order of 300,000 shields, the government agency confirmed in an email.

"Our sales team is absolutely inundated," Braun said.

Tony LaMantia, president and CEO of the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, said he expects the current moment could be a turning point for the company. 

"Some of our most important companies were actually formed during the First and Second World Wars, responding to a need ... and they were able to set up companies that endured," said LaMantia.

"That's just what happens in these kinds of cycles, people respond, pivot very quickly and then they realize they've got this capacity to essentially create a brand new product."

To keep up with demand, Braun said the company has expanded from a team of less than 10 employees to one of about 80, with most employees working on assembly lines. They are still hiring, she said.

Braun said the company aims to keep its expanded workforce safe from COVID-19 by implementing strict rules around hand washing, wearing personal protective equipment and maintaining physical distance.

A doctor is on-site to provide advice, and employees are required to log their temperatures every day, she said.

In the weeks to come, Braun said the company plans to move into a larger facility, having already outgrown their space at 44 Gaukel St.

Although there is no end in sight to the current pandemic, Braun said the company's plan long-term is to continue making personal protective equipment for Canadian healthcare workers.

"Should this happen again, we can't be in a position to rely on global supply chains for our own PPE to keep our people safe," said Braun. "We need to have a long-term sustainable option to provide our health care facilities with the equipment they need."